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Black Rosie Will Take The Ice for the Metropolitan Riveters And It's a Beautiful Thing

Premier Hockey Federation's Metropolitan Riveters will wear their Black Rosie jerseys on Saturday in a beautiful example of diversity in hockey.

Rosie the Riveter is an iconic symbol, initially one of unity and then of feminine empowerment and equal rights. With a few brushstrokes of brilliance, she has now been catapulted into a new age, one of accessibility and diversity.

Black Rosie, a redesign of the iconic image, will finally shine on Saturday night’s ice when the Metropolitan Riveters don their new jerseys in a home-ice clash with the Toronto Six.

It’s a momentous and beautiful occasion. Thanks in large part to organizations like Black Girl Hockey Club, which remains steadfast in its mission to diversify the joy that comes with being a hockey fan.

It’s thanks to so many players and coaches who have given so much to the sport. Some of which have been championed while others remain tragically unrecognized for their contributions.

A Beautiful Idea

There is something entirely simple but profoundly powerful about representation. It sometimes takes but a splash of inclusion for millions to suddenly discover themselves in a sport.

In speaking with Erica Ayala and graphic designer Jordan Dabney, the same could be said for them on their journey to hockey.

Erica Ayala is a journalist and announcer. The former demands objectivity while the latter certainly benefits from her flare. It’s in the moments that she allows her emotion to pour out that you begin to truly see how much this sport means to her.

Ayala is the Premier Hockey Federation announcer, the Riveters reporter, and a journalist whose words have featured in such publications as The New York Times, Deadspin and The Athletic.

Dabney had an interest in hockey from an early age. It took some clever spelunking before she quickly found that a sport that can be so devoid of athletes of color in fact did feature Black players. She cites Joel Ward and Devante Smith-Pelly as the first examples of seeing herself in hockey. Both Ayala and Dabney have been instrumental in bringing Black Rosie to life.

The Riveters jersey and its logo stands triumphant as an iconic symbol of unity and empowerment. With a simple idea, it now serves as a welcome sign to those who might otherwise miss out on the joy that comes with embracing this sport.

Ayala is one of three girls raised by a single mom. The image of Rosie was big in the household and is one of the reasons she initially came to follow the Riveters. Their jersey represented one of the first she ever purchased. But then something hit her.

“I remember thinking, it was very slight, but I do remember thinking, Wow, I have this white woman's face on my chest,” she recalled.

She immediately pondered whether melanated fans felt truly represented or if those who weren’t melanated would jump at the chance to rock the alternative to the Riveters logo.

Ayala leans back on Zoom and shows off with pride one of the earliest examples of Black Rosie. It’s the triumphant figure posed as if to flex her bicep, but in her grip is a microphone.

“Jordan Dabney original design right here,” Ayala said. “And she is holding a microphone. And I wanted to in the absence of a Black Rosie in this particular hockey league, I wanted to make sure that melanated people, but especially Black women, were featured and felt seen in the sports space.”

Fast forward to this past season, the Riveters hear the call from Ayala and decide to embrace a Black Rosie version of its logo. Jordan Dabney, a designer who has worked with such organizations as Black Girl Hockey Club, was tasked with bringing a new version to life.

“It’s kind of surreal to even say out loud,” Dabney tells En Fuego. “(That) I worked with a professional hockey team for designs that I myself have always wanted to see. Like, I have a lot of reimaginations and redesigns of other characters or logos, but to see myself in one is surreal.”

For Dabney, creating a logo is as much about pouring herself into her craft as possible. While some will default to style alone, her’s is a much deeper relationship with the subject.

“It starts with a lot of reading,” she said. “I know most people don't like that part, but I like the research behind to show that I know what I'm drawing.”

Accessibility and Representation

Hockey is a tough nut to crack. Anyone who has ever stepped foot into an arena gets slapped in the face with that “love at first sight” feeling. The pace of it all. The sounds. The fervor from the crowd; it’s one of the more exciting live events one can witness.

The trick is getting more people through those doors, or just simply showing them who is already on the the ice.

Ayala recalls a summit she was invited to on the same weekend that the Boston Bruins were retiring the jersey of the great Willie O’Ree. It was at this time that she heard a Black man in passing remark that he was a bit flummoxed because he thought the name Willie O’Ree belonged to a white player.

A lack of awareness can be remedied by championing, as Ayala puts it, all of the Black Rosies who have come before and who are playing now. Players such as Cherie Stewart, Kelsey Koelzer, Chelsea Ziadie, and Saroya Tinker.

“If we're talking about changing the sport, yes, the visibility and accessibility that Jordan (Dabney) now is a part of in what she's been able to do is critical,” Ayala said. “So too is telling the history of hockey. Black people didn't start with Willie O’Ree, and they didn't start with Saroya Tinker in this league or in the sport. We have to go further back and tell that history.”

The Beijing Olympics were at times shrouded by a pandemic that largely left fans watching from home. And it was soured by figure skating controversy. Yet the games proved once again that they are at their best when personal triumphs become universal celebrations.

Sarah Nurse played a pivotal role in bringing gold to Team Canada women’s team. She became the first Black woman to take home the top medal in the sport. Ayala was there to watch it all unfold. Her work with the sport. All of the women that came before. Black Girl Hockey Club and its unrelenting effort to bring inclusion to the sport. It all coalesced.

“When I got to see Sarah Nurse get her Gold Medal, I thought of all of those things,” Ayala said. “I have a journalism career because of Black women in hockey, that is my story. 

“There, there's still so much work that we have to do when it comes to visibility. But there's also so much that has been done, and I got to literally be there at a turning point in history. And it's something I'll never forget.”

It’s not just the players that spark interest in the sport. It’s the call from the booth and the designs that color its style.

“I can confidently say that when I first started drawing and working with Black Girl Hockey Club to now, I found hundreds of Black women and girls that found my work and said that because of my art that I did, that they found hockey or teams that they passionately like,” Dabney said.

Saturday marks another turning point, when a professional hockey team skates onto the ice wearing the image of a Black woman across their jersey. The moment won’t be lost on the players, the designer, the people covering the games. It won’t be lost on the fans in the stands.

Most importantly, it won’t be lost on the next generation there to witness the moment, many who will see themselves on the ice.